“Funflation” drives up ticket prices for sporting events by 25%

  • Sports ticket prices soared 25.1% between October 2022 and 2023, according to closely watched data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • Sports have become the latest events to feel the impact of “funflation.”

John Brown #16 of the Buffalo Bills celebrates with fans after catching a touchdown pass during the third quarter against the New England Patriots at Highmark Stadium on January 8, 2023 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images)

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Dan Hornberger has been a fan of the National Football League’s Philadelphia Eagles for as long as he can remember. As an adult, his office features team memorabilia on the walls.

Last year, the avid fan attended five home games, about an hour and a half drive from home. This year, however, Hornberger will only be able to attend two games as costs skyrocket.

“I’m a big fan,” Hornberger, 40, said. “At the end of the day, it just comes down to a categorical refusal on my part to pay that kind of price.”

Sports prices jumped this fall, according to federal data. That makes match tickets the latest victim of “funflation,” a term economists use to explain rising prices for live events as consumers yearn for the experiences they lost during the pandemic.

Admission prices to sporting events jumped 25.1% in October 2023 compared to the same month the previous year, according to Consumer Price Index data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This category has seen the highest annualized inflation rate among the several hundred that make up the inflation indicator.

The CPI as a whole increased by a relatively modest 3.2% on an annualized basis. The index tracks prices for a broad basket of items, including milk, jewelry and airline tickets.

“We’ve seen this across the leisure and hospitality industry,” said Victor Matheson, a professor and sports economist at the College of the Holy Cross. “People are returning to the things they love to do and are willing to pay a lot.”

Part of the reason consumers are seeing higher ticket prices for their favorite sports teams is due to the increasing use of dynamic pricing models, Matheson said. These structures allow ticket platforms to recover more or less per ticket, depending on the demand for the event at any given time.

Many exciting sporting events will also take place this fall. Beyond typical major league seasons, last week’s Formula 1 race in Las Vegas and the announcement of soccer legend Lionel Messi’s move to Inter Miami this summer have boosted spending by passionate.

But much of the dramatic 25.1% increase is due to low prices a year ago, Matheson said. Teams have reduced ticket values ​​in 2022 in an effort to win back fans accustomed to watching at home.

Sports ticket prices were 14.2% higher in October than in November 2019, a smaller gain than the 19.6% increase in the entire index, according to a CNBC analysis of data from the ‘CPI. Much of the upward pressure on admission prices has occurred this year, highlighting the role of funflation as consumers shift their attention from Taylor Swift and Beyoncé concerts to NFL games and of Major League Baseball.

“We’re seeing a gigantic rebound in prices,” Matheson said.

NFL and National Hockey League sales approximately doubled in 2023 compared to the previous year, according to ticketing platform StubHub. NBA sales were up nearly 60% at the start of the season compared to the previous one, while college football saw an increase of about 50%.

Certainly, not all sports have experienced the same price growth this year. StubHub said ticket prices for the top 10 sporting events were 15% higher in 2022 than they were in 2023.

Matheson said overall more subdued inflation should help dampen sectoral growth. A return to a more normalized entertainment spending routine following the post-pandemic experience boom may also help suppress demand and prices, he added.

Rodney Paul, director of the sports analytics program at Syracuse University, said interest in attending games should be somewhat stable even as the economy deteriorates. Indeed, a significant portion of the consumer base is affluent enough to afford professional sports tickets — which he says are essentially a luxury item — and should be able to better withstand a downturn given of his financial situation.

But Paul said a significant change in the state of the economy could push fans who are less financially stable to cut back on unnecessary spending, which would hurt demand. Cash-strapped consumers could justify spending more than they would like this year by remembering that they didn’t splurge as much, if at all, on game tickets during the pandemic, said Matheson.

Part of the financial stress comes from the ticket resale market, some sports fans say. The rising cost of parking and food inside the stadium must also be factored into the financial calculus for fans like Hornberger and Sara Weddington.

Weddington was able to save enough to attend a Kansas City Chiefs game last season, but she said that seemed out of the question this year as prices have climbed. The longtime Kansas City area resident said she sympathizes with people who never had the opportunity to see a game before recent cost increases.

“It’s really upsetting to see such a monumental part of the community be so out of reach for a lot of people,” the 23-year-old said. “Not being able to go to a game is like going to a candy store and not being able to buy candy.”

Still, Syracuse University’s Paul said sports have taken on new meaning in the post-pandemic world. As people increasingly work from home, he said there’s a greater need for in-person social spaces — and those who can afford them are more willing to fork out.

“There’s a real need for that kind of sense of unity that the sports world brings,” he said. It’s “a really exciting experience that is perhaps even more exciting now because people had lost it in the past.”

— CNBC’s Gabriel Cortes contributed to this report.

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